China #24: Hiking Up Jianchuan Shibao Mountain, Dali (徒步剑川石宝山)
Sights: Shibao Mountain Scenic Area (石宝山风景区)
Region: Jianchuan County, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan
Shibao Mountain is known for its Buddhist grottoes and temples that were built on the hillsides. It has 16 grottoes with a total of 139 Buddha cravings in the hills. The grottoes are dispersed in 3 general sections, namely Shizhong Temple (石钟寺石窟区), Lion Gate (Shiziguan, 狮子关石窟区) and Shadeng Valley (沙登箐石窟区). The cravings were works of the Bai minority people over a period of about a thousand years since the Nanzhao-Dali period (南诏大理国时期).
During the 11 days stay at Horse Pen 46 Youth Hostel (沙溪马圈46国际青年旅舍) in Shaxi Ancient Town, we took part in an activity organised by the hostel staff — hiking up Shibao Mountain (石宝山). It was on a Saturday when there were more guests. Shaxi Ancient Town had more visitors on Fridays (for the bazaar, see Story #22) and Saturdays.
We would be hiking to one section of the grottoes of Shibao Mountain in Shadeng Valley (沙登箐石窟区), which was underdeveloped, had lesser visitors, free entry and just 2Km from Shaxi Ancient Town. The main entrance of Shibao Mountain Scenic Area was 10Km from the ancient town. Hiking to all the 16 grottoes in the scenic area could take up to 2 days.
The Hike to Shibao Mountain
The hiking started from the ancient stage in Sideng Street (寺登街) of Shaxi Ancient Town and exited through the ancient East Gate (东寨门) to the fields — check out the ancient structures in Story #21. There were about 20 travellers in our group.
We were led through the fields for about half an hour before reaching the foot of Shadeng Valley (沙登箐).
That red building in the distant was a protective structure to shield one of the grottoes from weathering. We would be hiking towards it.
An unique feature of Shibao Mountain was the weird rock formation that resembled the shell of tortoises. These rocks were said to be "carved" by winds. There were quite a number of these "tortoise-shell" rocks littering the hillside.
One of the grottoes was below a "tortoise-shell" rock formation.
Half an hour later, we came to the red building we spotted earlier. It was locked, so we peeped through the holes on the doors at the exquisite Buddha cravings. But trying to take photos was difficult.
Then, we continued up the hill through beautiful pinaceae trees. At the top of one of the "tortoise-shell" rock, we could see the farmlands below the hills.
And a couple more grottoes along the way as we hiked further.
We scaled higher to the peak of one of higher hills. The lands below became wider as we climbed higher.
I loved wide views of landscape more than city views and would not mind scaling up a hill or mountain to get good views.
Look at those beautifully-cultivated farmlands (through a telezoom lens).
From one of the hill tops, we could see the area around Shizhong Temple (石钟寺) and a number of shielded grottoes behind it. It would take a couple of hours to go downhill and up again to get to those grottoes, so we skipped it. Also, tickets would be required for this section.
And one more grotto on our way down the hills.
Finally, it was time to head back to town. The going down was always more difficult than going up.
The circuit hike to Shadeng Valley, reaching Shizhong Temple and back, took us about 5 hours.
This is my last story in Yunnan for this trip.
Having stayed at Shaxi Ancient Town for 11 days, we left for Nuodeng Ancient Village (see Story #13) in Yunlong County, where I became the guide to show Xiaoqi around. Thereafter, we were in Dali Ancient Town (see Story #12) for couple of days before taking a train to Kunming. Xiaoqi headed for home from Kunming and I took a 35-hour train to Xiamen in Fujian Province (福建厦门).
Xiamen was my last stop in China before crossing the sea to the Kinmen Islands (金门), under the administration of Taiwan.
Writing story #25: Gulang Island in Xiamen (厦门鼓浪屿)